Red lantern finisher Olivia Webster poses with her grandpa, LeRoy Shank, at the finish line of the 2020 Yukon Quest in Whitehorse on Feb. 15. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Olivia Webster is the final musher to finish the Yukon Quest

‘I guess I’ve always been a grandpa’s girl and he’s my best friend, so I kind of wanted to be like him and so I did it’

Olivia Webster and her team of nine dogs brought the 2020 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race to a close when they crossed the finish line at 7:58 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse.

As the 11th and final musher in this year’s race, Webster won the Red Lantern Award for her efforts.

Meeting Webster at the finish line was her grandfather LeRoy Shank, one of the Quest’s founders, as well as her handler and husband, Hugh Neff, and the red lantern itself, which left the banquet with race officials just prior to her arrival.

At the finish line, Webster kept her answers succinct about the race and what finishing meant to her.

“I don’t really know what to say. I’m just happy that it’s over,” said Webster. “I still can’t believe I did it. I’m like, what else am I going to get away with?”

Webster said things got off to an inauspicious start when her lead dog, Emily, went into heat at the first checkpoint in Two Rivers, Alaska.

“I almost gave up,” said Webster. “Because Emily came in heat and I had all boys and one girl. But then I just put her in lead by herself. I guess, never give up. Force it.”

She said Emily stood out, especially after running nearly the entire race in single lead.

“(She was) like foaming at the mouth crazy,” said Webster. “She never stopped. She did really good.”

It was encouragement from Neff, a two-time Quest winner who was censured by the race and suspended for 2019, that kept Webster motivated to finish this year.

“He was motivating,” said Webster. “He annoyed me, but he was right. He had to force me to leave the checkpoints because I thought I couldn’t do it.”

Webster said she didn’t bring music with her this year, and that may have been the hardest part.

“I just didn’t bring any music, so I just self-reflected a lot,” said Webster. “I guess I’ve always been a grandpa’s girl and he’s my best friend, so I kind of wanted to be like him and so I did it.”

She said she’s not planning to run the race again next year, but does have her eye on 2022.

“Maybe in 2022 when Hugh can do it again,” said Webster. “I guess we can do it together.”

Although she missed the start of the banquet, Webster said that didn’t matter.

“I don’t really care about that though,” said Webster. “This is what really matters, that I got to go with my dogs.”

Once the dogs were loaded up in the truck, Webster made it to the Finish and Awards Banquet just in time to formally receive the Red Lantern Award.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

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